Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
Chief Godwin Ubaka Okeke, Chairman, G.U.O Group Ltd has come a long way. At 70, he chairs several boards and companies which cut across transportation, logistics, sales, humanitarian foundation and motor manufacturing. In this interview, the Onwanetiriora of Adazi-Ani, Anambra State bared his mind on the life situation of the Igbo and Nigerians in general. He also advocated for the proper equipping of the youth and family values as the way forward to redeem the country.
What is your view about what is happening in Igboland in particular and Nigeria in general today?
The situation we find ourselves as Ndigbo and Nigerians is not speaking well of us as a tribe and as a country at all. As a businessman, I run my businesses in Onitsha, Enugu, Lagos and Abuja as the Chairman of G.U. Okeke Group of Companies and the Chairman of ANAMCO Motor manufacturing located at Enugu, so I can say that I am conversant with the Nigeria situation. The point is that our leaders particularly are not doing well enough.
Take for Instance in the South East geopolitical zone, I have checked and found out that the spirit of the likes of late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Akanu Ibiam, Ikemba of Nnewi, Dim Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Dr. M. I. Okpara and those ones that led us in ‘70’s and ‘80s is lacking in the system. The issue of leadership in both Igbo land and Nigeria changed drastically about thirty years ago and it is most unfortunate because the situation has impacted negatively on the people mostly the youth.
We have to do more to reinvent and re-programme the youth because they are the hope of the nation; they are the nourishment to the present and key to the future. People grow old and weak, so at a point, one can no longer function well and in that case there is need for a competent younger one to take over from the elderly one as successor. Let me use my family as example. My children, both the boys and girls thereof have not just taken over my businesses but have made them stronger and better following the kind of training my wife and I accorded them.
My children have taken the advantage of good education and domestic training we gave them to transform my business with their youthfulness and exposure which gives them edge over me now, so it is very important for our leaders to focus more on the youth as strong measures for nation building. Yes, the major cause of our problem is that we are losing the youth to all sorts of crimes including violent ones like armed robbery, kidnapping and terrorism. Some are languishing in prisons in foreign countries and some have died on account of illegal migration because they had no job to do in their country, so Government have to do more to recover our youth. Again we have to urge the religious leaders to do more for us in prayers for God’s intervention. Politicians go to churches and mosques for prayers, traders and businessmen go to churches, civil servants and public servants like lawyers, medical doctors and engineers, go to churches, artisans and even criminals go to churches too, so the men of God have to work hard in prayers in presenting the ugly situation we find ourselves before God for divine intervention. These are the key areas we have to focus on towards addressing the challenges facing the Igbo man and Nigerians generally today.
In practical terms, what would you do you think the leaders could do to be able to create jobs for the youth and prepare them for the future as nation builders?
First, give them opportunities in politics with political jobs so as to groom them towards leadership. Secondly, expose them to skill acquisition and entrepreneurship programmes and empower them with soft loan. If you expose them to skill and entrepreneurship, they too will become job providers. Take for instance, if the Federal Government can enact practical programmes on the National Youth Service Corps scheme and convert the one year service to practical scheme on skill acquisition and entrepreneurship programmes, the NYSC programme will be more profitable to the nation.
Go to China and Japan, younger people play with GSM handset like ludo game. We can send out our youth there for training and they come to live a more meaningful life. For instance, if the million graduates that participate in NYSC programme yearly are trained in skill acquisition and entrepreneurship within three months and given like N500, 000 to N1million each as take-off grant, before you know it, they will become employers of labour. By the time they start to engage others in what they do, the number of unemployed people will drastically reduce. It is possible to raise the money.
First you can convert the monthly allowance they give youth corps members to a bulk fund and then source additional money in form of soft loan from Central Bank to make it N1million, it is possible to do this and by the time you do it annually for five years, you give unemployment a good fight, reduce crime and the economy will improve beyond your imagination. Let the youth be carried along in the scheme of things.
I still like to use my family as example because charity begins at home. As my children were growing up, I started carrying them along both the boys and girls. I engaged them on what to do in the transport section as well as ANAMCO and other areas and they started looking after what they were doing, I was stronger as a man when they were growing up so I had the capacity and ability to monitor what they did, to coach them according to my taste and standard and fortunately they were able to catch up as I expected of them. Today, I’m happy they are doing well and even more than I could do. They are all married with their families and I can say that I am happy at the level of progress we have made as a family courtesy of my children. Similarly, leaders in Government can emulate such measures and carry the youth along.
There is a popular impression that the bane of Ndigbo in Nigeria today is marginalization following non appointment of Igbo politicians into key positions and lack of Federal Government presence in the area of infrastructures especially roads. What is your take on this?
I totally disagree with such impression. The problem of Ndigbo is centered on lack of unity among the people mostly the political class owing to personal interests that drive politicians. If Ndigbo can come together and decide on what to do, they can make more meaningful impact on themselves and on Nigeria.
Okay, take for instance what happened during the Presidential election in February, Ndigbo came out in full force to support Atiku/Peter Obi candidacy and the entire nation felt the impact. People in various parts of Nigeria particularly, Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Kaduna and so on, were jittery over the votes from Ndigbo.
What happened in 2019 Presidential is an indication that Ndigbo can do something great if they unite for a purpose; and the lack of such unity remains our bane. If Ndigbo can unite and then align forces with the south-south and possibly one other region which share the same ideology with us; chances are there that we can go far to fight and derive our deserved position in the country.
How would you advise Ohanaeze Ndigbo at this moment?
Bring Ndigbo together and take Ohanaeze to the grassroots through the towns and villages. What Igbo need is to mobilize themselves together and chart a new course in politics and governance and also a new course in business and upbringing of the youth. I have told Onitsha traders that buying and selling is no longer the ideal business.
There are lots of things that people can do to make money. People are going back to original local delicacy like roasted yam, roasted plantain, local beans known as akidi, cocoa yam, and vegetables but we don’t have enough of them. Could you believe that a woman that roasts yam and plantain trained her two children in the university with profit she is making from the business?
Most people are lazy that’s why they go for fast money. Sometimes, you don’t blame them because that’s what they inherit from the society in the absence vision for the youth on the side of Government. In most cases, you cannot see workers to do mason, carpentry work and brick laying because the society no longer prepares people for such jobs. So, how can you grow, secure the system and grow the economy without engaging the youth, it is not possible.